Monday, May 17, 2010

Pedophilia Hysteria: Supreme Court Upholds Indefinite "Civil Commitment" Provision Of Adam Walsh Law Despite Dangerous Precedent Set

On May 15th, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 7-2 margin, upheld the controversial provision of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act passed in 2006 (read the specific language HERE) that prescribes indefinite "civil commitment" of sex offenders who are deemed by authorities to be still "dangerous" at the end of their sentence. The case in question is United States v. Comstock, No. 08-1224. The most informative media story comes from the New York Times; other sources consulted include the Washington Post and CNN.

Update May 22nd: Conservative columnist Paul Jenkins publishes a powerful editorial condemning this Supreme Court decision in the Anchorage Daily News.

Read the complete Supreme Court ruling HERE

The federal law at issue in the case allows the government to continue to detain prisoners who had engaged in sexually violent conduct, suffered from mental illness and would have difficulty controlling themselves. If the government is able to prove all of this to a judge by “clear and convincing” evidence — a heightened standard, but short of “beyond a reasonable doubt” — it may hold such prisoners until they are no longer dangerous or a state assumes responsibility for them. Obviously, it's open-ended, which causes grave concern by those of us who consider the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to be authoritative.

The challenge to the civil commitment provision was brought by five prisoners. Most noteworthy is the case of Graydon Comstock. In November 2006, a mere six days before Comstock was to have completed a 37-month sentence for receiving child pornography, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales suddenly certified that Mr. Comstock was a sexually dangerous person. Comstock subsequently appealed, and in 2009, a three-judge panel of the Fourth United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, VA unanimously ruled that none of the powers granted to Congress in the Constitution empowered it to authorize such civil commitments. But the decision was stayed, and Comstock has remained confined in a federal prison. The other plaintiffs included three other inmates who served prison terms of three to eight years for offenses ranging from child pornography to sexual abuse of a minor, and another who was charged with child sex abuse, but was declared mentally incompetent to face trial. All were set to be released nearly three years ago, but government appeals have blocked their freedom.

This means Graydon Comstock and the other four plaintiffs are indefinitely stranded in prison, with no hope of imminent release, and no time-phased incentive to even qualify for release. This is even worse than in the old Soviet Union; at least in the Soviet gulag, a prisoner knew when he was getting out.

You can read the complete Supreme Court ruling HERE. The two dissenting judges were Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, both conservatives. Justice Thomas wrote, “The fact that the federal government has the authority to imprison a person for the purpose of punishing him for a federal crime — sex-related or otherwise — does not provide the government with the additional power to exercise indefinite civil control over that person”.

Since Barack Obama's new Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, in her previous capacity as Solicitor General, argued in favor of the civil commitment provision back in January, saying the law was needed to run a criminal justice system that does not itself endanger the public, it is likely she would have voted with the majority if she was now on the Court.

Reaction: Alex Knepper takes strong issue with this decision in a post very aptly entitled "The Sex-Offender Lynch Mob Marches On". Reason Online is also leery of the decision. Likewise, the left-wing Mother Jones is also skeptical of the decision, so criticism is crossing party lines. But BeliefNet seems to like the decision.

The real problem with this decision is the dangerous civil liberties precedent set. The government deliberately chose the most repugnant segment of the population, sex offenders, to beta-test the principle of indefinite incarceration. Because it has now been upheld, it could be extended to other demonized segments of the population, to include "terrorists", white "racists", polygamists, militia members, "patriots", "teabaggers", conservative Christians, homeschoolers, and even those who refuse government health care. It sets the table for possible wholesale repression of the American population.

Targeting sex offenders, and ONLY sex offenders, is arbitrary and reflects primitive, uneducated bias rather than scientific reason and logic. There are many gangbangers, drug dealers, robbers and murderers who pose a greater threat to society than sex offenders. Yet all of them get released at the expiration of their sentences, and none of them go on a "list". The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act was an expression of legislative vigilantism, and today's Supreme Court decision upholding the indefinite civil commitment provision is an expression of judicial vigilantism.

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